I’d like to commemorate this Veteran’s Day by sharing three pieces from “Phases of Dad,” a poem suite I wrote about my Dad that appeared in my book, “Shades of Green”. I have since added a new piece, which appears here for the first time. Robert Yehling Sr. (1928-1995) served proudly in the Marine Corps for 20 years, fought in Korea and Vietnam, commanded troops in Vietnam, and gave his two sons and daughter valuable lessons in life that have served us since. Hope you enjoy.
LAGUNA BEACH: 1988
Dad walks to the house
behind my house,
seized by curiosity over
the Vietnamese woman and her American husband.
He walks with such humble, dignified steps
my old man, turning gray
in the spirit of the graced.
He spends an hour with the woman, Thanh,
my old man who taught me to respect everyone
but privately never quite trusted any Oriental
or ate a bowl of rice or Chinese food again
An hour later, Dad walks back, his wide smile
failing to hide pools of sadness in his eyes,
twenty years of animosity releasing.
“She told me all about what happened
after we left ‘Nam. Makes you want to cry.”
OLD WARRIOR SOUL: 1996
As months and years pass
the tone of your voice
fades into wind
and your green eyes
are absorbed by trees
but in my walk
my duty, my desire
to get it done, advance
to a greater capability,
I wear you as you wore
your uniform —
Your passing links us closer together,
old warrior soul.
All that remains is for me
to finish the dance
and join you as your friend
I’ll know where to look:
Straight in the Eye.
VISITATION: DECEMBER 1998
An eagle passed by
with his wife,
looking at a cafe menu
taped to a sidewalk window.
The short silver hair — the eyes —
the smile — the way your eyebrows raised
behind his sunglasses —
Ten minutes you were there,
all of you … the way you folded your arms
across your chest. I looked
away, tears in my eyes,
seeing you again, on Earth.
I shook my head, looked over once more —
You were flying again.
TUCSON MARATHON: December 2004
You would’ve loved the plan, Dad:
Run each five-mile segment at thirty-nine minutes,
tough it out the final two kilometers,
and I’m in the dream marathon — Boston.
Deep in the desert, clicking off the miles,
hawks and snowcapped mountains
kissing heaven in its puffy cloud descent,
stride sure as a parade march,
focus no further out than the next mile,
getting it done …
A scent in the Catalina desert breeze,
aftershave I haven’t smelled in ten years,
a buzz in the ear — strange —
words in formation:
“You keep up like this, buddy,
and you’re going to Boston.
Perfect time. You’re on perfect time.
The race of your life, buddy.”
No one ever called me buddy.
Except you, Dad.